Silencing, Safety and Hinduphobia in YogaLand

It’s taken me 5 months to open up about this. Yes, me, the one who usually has no qualms about saying things as they are – it took me 5 months to really do this today. In the meanwhile, while it may have seemed that I was occupied with other things – teaching classes, educating (for free) on other sticky matters that Instagrammers love, leading sadhanas, etc, this matter sat firmly in the center  of my mind space. It would not shift, it would not budge and it took a toll on my health – physically and mentally.

It is always easy to speak up and resist an outsider, a colonizer, a supremacist who fits the frame and stereotype of being the outsider. What happens when the speaking up and challenging is for someone who is supposedly an ‘insider’? What happens when that insider supports the colonizer agenda? What happens when the conversation itself is hushed by the very people who, on all other platforms appear to be working towards uplifting the silenced? What happens when the so-called victims themselves jump into oppressor tactics? These are the questions whose answers I experienced. Those were the experiences I  was stuck with over almost half the past year!

Now, it is time for me to declutter my mind space. In my silence, while I cocooned myself in response to the pain and harm that folks who were, until then, ‘my people’, I’d like to believe that I got some clarity and a fragment of healing. I say, ‘a fragment’ of healing, yes. The pain is still here. But the clarity of stepping back and observing the dance of self righteousness, commodification, tokenization and self-tokenization all in the name of ‘Decolonization’ and ‘Anti-Cultural Appropriation’ has been a massive shift. That, and the shocking revelation of how, in the midst of this dance, what was actually happening was an enactment of blatant Hinduphobia.

Yes, that’s the word…

Here’s the story.

In April I came across an article written by a colleague whom I got on well with. We had worked  together in some projects and workgroups and the channels of communication between us were always friendly and open. The article was published in the Yoga Journal, notorious for its appropriative, white washed bigotry and racism. I assumed that with all the social media backlash, they were looking to do better and that this article might have been a segue for more Desi representation in their content. I don’t comment on article / podcast links unless I have opened & read or listened to them fully. It took me a few days to open up and read the article in question. By then, I’d seen many other colleagues from the yoga community comment with high praise and pride at the work. When I did read the article, I was shocked. The article was extremely flawed and had many errors. It was on yoga & Sanskrit – both areas that I have some knowledge, let alone expertise, to be able to critique it with integrity.

I considered the author to be a ‘friend’ – a word that seems to mean many things to many people on Social Media – from Facebook ‘friends’ to friendship being considered an equivalent to ‘absolved from the consequences of any actions’. Very few, I understand now, use the word to mean someone who may also hold up the mirror and nudge the other to do better at the same time be open to receive the same mirror holding in return. The objective of friendship to be mere  fair weather friends or those who only appear to fan your ego, sadly, is what seems to run many ‘friendship’ circles and ‘like minded communities’.

Anyway, I held that mirror up to the author. I had the following reasons to do so:

  • I considered the author an open-minded friend who would want to do better.
  • As a steward of Dharma, I wanted to do what was right and rectify the errors that were being presented to a wide readership of a publication that clearly refused to put in any effort towards correctness and was doing the bare minimum through superficial allyship and tokenism.
  • As a teacher, I felt responsible for my students, or any student / practitioner, who without access to better teachers would be terribly misguided by this article and experience emotional and spiritual harm. (I’ll speak more about this later in the post)
  • I felt the article showed Desi teachers in poor light and demonstrated how a brown skin and a Hindu name could be tokenized and equated with knowledgeability, when clearly that was not true. (I’ll speak more about this too later)
  • Since the author was clearly not aware of the basic Sanskrit, and since the article was all about Sanskrit, I was willing to offer my time (with due credit if the offer was accepted) to help the author edit the article and republish.
  • Yoga Journal clearly needed to do much, MUCH better and I wanted them to acknowledge the error (like most decent publications do), take down the article (at least the e-edition), support the author to rectify the errors and perhaps exert due diligence when it comes to whom they actually showcase as experts in their publications!

I did two things: I wrote to the author, with kindness and with the offer to help edit the article. I also wrote to Yoga Journal, with sternness, disappointment at their lack of credible focus and the urge for them  to do better. I wrote to them with the backing of the Karnataka Yoga Council of which I am the State President here in India.

Excerpt of my first email to Yoga Journal on 28th April 2021

A few things came out of this.

For one, Yoga Journal ignored my emails and my tweets – I wrote to them multiple times following up on the matter. I have not heard from them except for one response that said they will forward it to the concerned team. Clearly, not one YJ editor is concerned, let alone the team. I have since seen Yoga Journal seem to publish articles and cover pages that want to appeal to the political atmosphere of the US. The eyewash by featuring BIPOC on their covers and focusing on anti-racism is a kick in the gut to yoga philosophy & cultural stewardship. It is mere distraction & diversion. They fail to convince that there is any real accountability. The article in question has numerous Facebook comments and tweets from lay persons as well as Sanskritists – not one received any respectful acknowledgement from the publication or their Social Media staff.

My comment on Yoga Journal’s Facebook page.

With the author, I was first told that they had clearance from their parents and community teachers to go ahead and publish. I was stunned at the statement which essentially threw elders right under the bus, refusing to take any personal responsibility in the matter. Then I heard the refrain that Sanskrit had evolved with migration, etc. This was another hashtag facepalm moment clearly indicating ignorance of the subject matter. And finally, there was the unspoken bit that suggested an open ear but no intention to rectify the errors that I had written out & sent over. This is where the first problem largely rested.

The author’s article announcement post on Facebook.

The author who, according to their facebook post, leant how to trace out the words in Sanskrit through a chart that was shared from their parents had not made a pronunciation error (to blame diasporic migration). The words were incorrectly written – by hand – as captions to the author’s artwork. While the pronunciation / transliteration was also wrong in many places, my focus was on the Sanskrit words that were incorrectly written in Devanāgarī – the script in which Sanskrit is written – and not a matter of my ‘quest for technical correctness’. Now, for any writer who chose to publish for international readership about a subject with sufficient technicality – wouldn’t you expect the basic conceptual correct knowledge of the writer, if not subject matter expertise? The author kept repeating on various social media discussion threads that they did not claim subject matter expertise – then WHY did they agree to write on a topic that was finally published with so many errors? Are we saying that the author and a money making machine like Yoga Journal had no resources to seek anyone in the world who would proofread the article and suggest amendments? Further, despite so many comments from knowledgeable Sanskrit scholars and readers on their social media Yoga Journal failed to acknowledge any of the emails and comments and continue to keep the faulty article live to this day and perpetuate false knowledge to their audience.

It is important to note here that yoga, yogic traditions and culture has historically been decimated and appropriated by the Western World by blasting our indigenous sciences, literature, wisdom and knowledge by deeming them blasphemous or incorrect; defacing them with Western ideas of what they think the correct meaning and knowledge should be and further capitalizing by promoting the distorted version to the world by calling it the real thing. Through this article, written by an author clearly lacking the credentials to teach any Sanskrit, let alone a few words, Yoga Journal has blatantly repeated what imperialism and White Supremacy have long done in academia and in the socio political and cultural world. They have taken Sanskrit, the ‘language of the Gods’, desecrated it, tokenized a brown woman and continue to capitalize on that with zero remorse.

Deep breath, Luvena… you got this… 1…2…3….

So, if you thought that was the end of it, it wasn’t.

If you haven’t guessed already, doing this work, standing on the side of Dharma, is not easy work. It is hard, arduous, exhausting and lonely. It is also very painful and isolating.

And it is very, very unsafe.

The Desi yoga community, of late, is seeing a rise in ‘supportive circles’. I’m a part of quite a few of these ‘safe spaces’, but quickly find myself leaving many of them.. The concept is good to hear, the intention appears to be wholesome, but most of these spaces lack the depth and grounded ability to be unbiased when it gets down and dirty with doing the real work. The colonized mind shows up there whenever there is a need for objective space.

After the emails and tweets between the author and YJ, I needed a ‘safe space’ where I could vent my frustration with people who I thought would understand. After all, some of these people constantly focus about how ‘Namaste is being misused’ by white folks or how ‘our culture’ was being appropriated, I thought they would be understand how and why this matter was problematic. So while I had clearly ignored one very popular group after their founder had clearly told me that it was not a safe space,I shared the experience in another group where I’d been a member for a while and expected an objective understanding.

While a few people understood the impact of what I was addressing, the bulk of the responses included statements and messages like:

  • We shouldn’t be infighting because of the White Gaze upon us.
  • I was looking for technical correctness in an language known to be elitist and casteist.
  • The author was trying to do the right thing by trusting in her elders.
  • Me calling the author my ‘friend’ in my post and then going to speak about her in a closed group for South Asian yoga teachers where she was absent was not done and constituted a breach of trust and shaming.
  • I should be happy for someone who gains success & visibility through Yoga Journal – but yes, by all means hold Yoga Journal accountable for not exercising due diligence.
  • That there was so much harm being done by the colonizers as it is and was I even on the yogic path by shaming my sibling?
  • And there was an unbelievable gaslighting comment where my concerns were labelled as pro-colonizer and I was asked why I used white person emojis?! Yes, that also happened.

Additionally, there were some other observations:

  • There were some passive aggressive social media memes about in-fighting between Desi teachers made by Desi teachers – so yeah, the irony wasn’t lost.
  • There was some unfriending & blocking.
  • And there was some very loud silence from otherwise very vocal folks who, in the past, have messaged me with pride at me being vocal. 

So taking a stand when it is needed is not considered a matter of integrity. On the other hand, it is weighed for it’s marketability and success factor. If someone stands to gain success and break the glass ceiling, then we were to be happy for them, even if their method was unethical. Even remembering this incident now elicits a visceral reaction. Asking for accountability was categorically called as shaming – in other words, gaslighting the aggrieved to believe that their expression of hurt & ask for accountability was actually hurting someone else (who otherwise stood to gain from their actions). Yoga Journal was constantly pointed to for making amends and the author was absolved from any corrective action. It was assumed that my venting in a private group meant that my private email to the author was hate-filled as offensive.

Isolation in the face of doing the right thing is not new. However, I think I was naive (or stupid) enough to believe that the people who were making the righteous noise in the name of social justice & inclusion, were actually in it for the ethics of it. The performative activism and allyship is astounding.

Eventually, the post was closed for comments and sometime somehow some comments with personal attacks were deleted. The group post was closed for comments after all the above responses were collectively thrown about. Of course, there were a few sympathetic private messages which expressed unsafety for them to put their thoughts out in the group and by the time they did, the comments were closed. A few others typically messaged me weeks later apologizing for not being supportive on the forum (that’s another story there..). And such is life…

I felt it was necessary to establish this context here because what followed is the core of what this  blog post is all about.

So what exactly happened?

As I said it has taken me 5 months since the incident to speak up about it. If you think it has been an easy decision to write it out here, I can assure you it has not.  The yoga space, the Desi community and this whole area of ‘speaking one’s truth’ and standing on the side of Dharma all sounds great but it is not… it is very dangerous and unsafe.

I have since:

  • Lost income.
  • Missed out on speaking opportunities– some which I had already decided to stop supporting, others which saddened me by their U-turn. The echo chambers created by those who stand to gain from white capitalist allies are incredibly toxic despite what meets the eye.
  • Been labelled & attacked – sometimes passive aggressively, often ad hominem. My ‘faith’ has been questioned and my political leanings pondered upon.
  • Been labelled as anti-diaspora (conveniently forgetting that 4 generations of my family have been non resident Indians & that I only moved to India in 2014)
  • Been marked as a fundamentalist and/or Right Winger and Hindutva (sigh!)
  • Blocked by a white capitalist organization even though I had zero conversation or disagreement with them about anything.
  • Had my content plagiarized with zero credit…. Also plagiarised to used keywords indicating alignment with Dharma by folks with hardly any understanding of Dharmic principles.
  • Been cancelled & replaced – tokenization rules!

In other words, for the most part, all of these and much more, are part & parcel of what constitutes Hinduphobia. And no, Hinduphobia does not mean it has to be at the hands of a non-Desi. This is rampant Hinduphobia, a remnant of the colonized mindset. Such is the  detachment from our own culture and heritage that anyone standing FOR the culture and heritage and not pandering to white capitalism is instantly labelled with political affiliations and the intention of call-out or call-in is tossed away. The need to align with whiteness & white-folks determined success overshadows the need to learn or really connect with one’s own culture.

Why bring in Hinduphobia? Well, what else would it be? Apart from the lack  of support, the Desi yoga community has a host of voices who feel validated and heard when they call out white appropriation and capitalization of yoga and Hindu culture but oddly turn a blind eye when their own folks actually pawn away and distort their culture. Furthermore, they silence those who do speak up about it because if they didn’t, then it would impact their income too! Social and financial currency are very likely key here as I see more and more Desis define their success by their appearance in white supremacist and racist organizations and conferences and less by holding themselves accountable and in alliance with their heritage and culture.

What did I feel in all this? Terrible! I felt terribly frustrated, alone and unheard. The very people who were trailblazing the need to pass the mic to silenced indigenous voices were yanking the mic away from someone who was pointing out a glaring flaw and hushing the error by promoting incorrectness. By allowing and supporting the misleading article, these very people were suppressing indigeneity and knowledge. At best, these very ‘teachers’ were ignorant about Sanskrit or even basic Devanāgarī but were also wary that highlighting my words would mean accepting their own lack of knowledge. But that was never the point! So this hesitation – no, refusal – to stand up for what is right made me feel  physically sick. And I felt alone – it felt like a losing battle because all these saviors of Whitewashed yoga were actually, without mincing many words, were telling me to maintain the status quo, keep the family secrets in-house ‘because White gaze’… and don’t go about stirring the pot, because you’re clearly the minority here… So once again, the minoritized voice was attempted to be silenced.

We hear Desis speak about ‘our culture’ being appropriated, our traditions, our prayers, etc… but when it comes down to it, most of these folks refuse to openly say which culture, especially if it is Hindu culture. I know a few Sikh yoga practitioners & teachers who are very clear and proud about their culture and heritage. Yet, I find a sense of apology when it comes to Hindu teachers who refuse to freely & proudly shine their culture. There is an unspoken vibe that standing for their Hindu culture might make them unpopular or that their anti-Islamophobia may not hold strong enough.

Then there is the idea of Secularism that restrains people from claiming their identity authentically. Secularism doesn’t mean that one group gets the mic while suppressing the other. In the search for equity, Islamophobia is just as vile as Hinduphobia, yet, the latter is so openly practiced and no one seems to know it is even happening!

Situational examples provided in Understanding Hinduphobia, help clarify what may constitute Hinduphobic behavior. I can assure you one thing –  experiencing it first hand is gutting and very painful. Here are a few of the examples that landed squarely with my experiences:


“Accusing those who organize around or speak about Hinduphobia (including the persecution of Hindus) of being agents or pawns of violent, oppressive political agendas.”;

“Making unsubstantiated  claims about the political agendas of people who are simply practicing Hinduism.”;

“Erasure of the Hindu civilizational imprint, including the denial of Hindu contributions to specific histories, knowledge systems, geographies, culture, etc., and the superimposition of Western civilization norms.”

Understanding Hinduphobia

Over this incident, there has been overt silencing from within the community by segregating stewards of the practices by calling us gatekeepers when all that was being done was what everyone has been asking for always – a respect of the roots and traditions of the culture. If we find it ethical to call-out (or call-in) ignorant appropriation by White folks, then how can calling-in (or calling-out) of our own folks who promote incorrect knowledge be considered inappropriate? Note that there was an open offer to help fix the errors, the offer still stands, but there has been no effort to rectify the error. What remains, though, is the undisguised disregard for the harm that the article and the publication has done. There remains no accountability. And instead, there is now a division and capitalism stands to win.

For the white folks reading this, please do not think that I, in any way, condone your appropriation and misuse of yoga and yogic concepts. If anything, I will be ten times as harsh. So, do not, for once, think that this is an excuse for you to do as you will – remember that is the very thing that makes many desi folks resist doing their real reclamation of identity.

Earlier in the post, I promised to address the spiritual harm and the misrepresentation of indigenous teachers. Needless to say, Hinduphobia includes whitewashing and Whitesplaining (is that a word already?) of the word, the sentiment and the essential principle of ‘Guru’. In its most literal meaning of being a ‘teacher’, the publication of this article underscores the ruthless stereotype in YogaLand that ‘Gurus are abusive’ and/or ‘Gurus are not required’. Clearly this publication that holds the potential to cause harm will, and does, highlight the harm that any brown skinned individual can cause by putting themselves in a place of authority to teach, even if they don’t openly claim to do so. The authority that comes with being published in a yoga magazine with international readership – does one even need to wonder?

Then there is the thing about eligibility, the adhikara, to teach and once again YogaLand, in this new race to uplift Desi voices, seems to ignore the fact that what needs to be done is uplift Desi experience and ensure equity & respect for them. However, when uplifting Desi voices as teacher voices or voices of expertise on a topic that the White Western World is not qualified to judge, merely being brown skinned with an Indian name does not cut it! We cannot claim eligibility to teach just by mere birth into an Indian Hindu family! There is loads of misinformation or information without proper teaching that gets conveyed in families. There are loads of rituals & traditions that families follow but somewhere along the way the meaning behind the traditions hasn’t been transmitted. How can we ever issue blanket expertise status to anyone just for being born Indian? There is a reason for lineage and a reason for paramparā and samprādaya to enable teachers to not just be custodians but also stewards of right knowledge for those who truly seek. For this, we need the humility to know where to draw the line around what we can teach and where we must honestly say, “Sorry, that is not my area of expertise.”

In this very shaky and flaky space called YogaLand, today, where we have an emergence of brown teachers who can be tokenized just to check the boxes of Inclusion & Representation in White Capitalist Organizations, who is to be held accountable? The organizations who can do better and dig deep… or the folks themselves who stand to be tokenized, or worse, who willfully self-tokenize?

Yoga Journal still doesn’t feel it necessary to address any harm because they stand to gain scholarly positioning by disseminating incorrect knowledge over traditional scholars, whom they refuse to acknowledge or approach.

It is unfortunate that some Desi teachers feel the need to benchmark success less by promoting their true culture with pride and more by allying with white-led organizations known to promote racism, inequity, prejudice and appropriative capitalism. I find a lot of teachers suddenly dropping ‘Dharma’ casually into their verbiage and still continuing to be bystanders, refusing to fully stand in the full expression of what Dharma means. Others continue to speak with authority and earn off ‘Yoga’ and ‘Dharma’ and yet denounce & problematize the Vedas because it is the ‘cool’ thing to do. Dharmic responsibility doesn’t mean doing what is right when it lines your pocket with Financial Currency and your media channels with Social Currency. No! it means doing what is right especially when everyone else is dancing to the other tune. There is no fair weather Dharma, my friends. It just is. Dharma prevails.

And while it remains painfully stigmatizing to be labelled and silenced by your own people for speaking the truth, we will still find a few voices who continue to resist and challenge the system. We will be isolated and our credibility will be questioned, tarnished and maligned; while white capitalists and their brown tokens will freely block us and delete our posts, comments and contribution, we will find very few who support us and we will be grateful to them for holding space – the real, unconditional and honest space – to stay true to Dharma.

And while all this remains as it may, we will not be silenced. Unsafe as it may be…

धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः

dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ

Those who protect the Dharma are protected by the Dharma.


Special thanks: With much gratitude to my friends Savira Gupta & Kaya Mindlin for holding me while I cried in frustration to make sense of this crazy place we ‘lovingly’ call YogaLand and to Sneha Rao for picking the phone to hearing me rant for close to two hours that day when I felt my lowest, when I felt that ‘my Yoga Community’ had failed me…. and also for lifting me up by recognizing what I was so deeply hurt about; for hearing me out rationally where others didn’t.

References: https://understandinghinduphobia.org/

The Break That Matters

I’m taking a break from Instagram for work starting today for a number of reasons. I’ve had lots of fun on Instagram with my yoga & philosophy work., meeting many colleagues, peers and fellow sadhakas who learn from each other. My students are mainly from IG and it serves as a great spot for connections and for sharing. The community has been very supportive.

But it has also opened me up to other sides of the story – largely the yoga story of yogaland – which, believe me, has very little to do with the land of yoga’s origin, and more to do with self-curated & self-oriented versions of the truth disguised as the self-declared ‘real thing’.

If you’re thinking I’m referring to White Supremacy in yoga – nope, that is a bigger problem that we all (even in India) are affected by because of colonization, capitalism and cultural appropriation. All these are hot buzzwords in Yogaland especially in the ‘South Asian’ or ‘Desi’ community because of being disenfranchised to participate fully & safely in their own practices…. but that isn’t where I’m headed.

My concern is with the assumption that ALL South Asians are yoga practitioners OR even teachers… and that ALL SA yoga practitioners / teachers are legit & qualified to teach yoga AND have the authority and legit information on the cultural, traditional, philosophical background of the breadth of yoga that is required to teach it. Yoga essentially may not have certifications, but there IS a process in qualifying teachers (that is not a 200 hr YTT/TTC course!)In the process of decolonizing yoga, the efforts are all focused on selling products to largely white people with purchasing power.

In the ask & process of passing the mic on to South Asian teachers, we have influential South Asians in the West holding the mic – which, to the white folks (who want to do better because they really want to…), seems to be authentic teaching with depth and honor and grace….. because the teaching is coming from a brown skinned South Asian teacher. 😑

But… BUT…..The problem is that not all yoga teachers come from authentic and traditional lineages that qualify them to teach yoga. That holds true EVEN in India – what are the odds that every Indian yoga teacher in the rest of the world has done the work (which means an immersion into a tradition, its lineage, the study – which never stops, btw, and has a backing from a solid foundation of all this under the guidance of a teacher…. and so much more) and not teach from the perspective of lived experience and the wisdom from those experiences. Yoga can be experienced through personal heart break, failed marriages, health conditions, etc but it CANNOT be taught through them. You can use them as examples but not indices that qualify you as a teacher!

So yes, there is a pain involved with my reason to pause from IG for a bit, which, at the moment is flying high on a wave of such nicely veiled and social media marketed ‘spiritual fraud’ at best (or worst) and while I choose to play no part in it, I recognize that the toxicity is bothering me while my students (even the most genuine ones) are lured into tapping into this in their search for authentic teachings. The love & light crafted language speaks beautifully to their pain and the assumption is that “this must be it!” 🙁

They couldn’t be further from the truth.

They’ve never heard me warn openly, though, so it is in a way my own doing, but that isn’t my style anyway. I’ll just keep it cryptic enough for people to do their homework themselves.

I’ve always suggested that people ASK questions, do the research and know that when they reach out to teachers, they don’t reach out to the hype of the ‘number of followers’- because you do know you can pay to get followers, right?

Anyway, sharing this because MAYBE you would be drawn to yoga some day – sooner or later – maybe never! Or maybe someone you know and care about might? Then remember:

1. Ask your questions… be a smart shopper/consumer if that is your preferred word.

2. Read the teacher’s bio. Does it include their teachers name? Does it include their lineage / tradition they belong to? If it does – Google the lineage name – does it make sense to you? Some vague randomness is not a lineage. Just because an Indian sounding name added with a ji or maa added to it doesn’t make it authentic or indigenous either. My domestic staff’s name is Devi – she has no idea about yoga or asana or anything apart from her rituals & practices. Yet, I can easily say Devi is my teacher and get away with it if people don’t know better and ask me. Yogic traditions exist because students share openly about their teachers. If said teachers are vague about it – chances are, well, you know what the chances are, don’t you?

3. It’s OK if they haven’t had a formal teacher but teach asana after having learnt from many other non indigenous teachers. It is OK. But, be honest and say that – don’t fake a lineage, because…

4. If you don’t belong to a lineage that teaches the wisdom in a particular sampradaya, then you do not have the authority to teach it.

5. Worse, they shouldn’t be capitalizing on it!

6. Even worse, they shouldn’t be butchering the tradition if they themselves do not know how to pronounce, practice or align with it.

7. You don’t have to dress up as an Indian to look the part. Being real shows up better than sanskaari outfits.

In all my time on social media and listening to various ‘yoga teachers’ who are lauded & applauded, I have come across only 3 teachers who are on IG & Facebook with a solid background in their study and practice and worth their salt – of these 2 are of Indian origin. I don’t think any of them have over 4/5000 followers (yet!) – I wish they did. There are many other acharyas doing the seva in teaching here in India- daily. I am currently studying with 6 such teachers (1 is on Instagram and has a few hundred followers) – but the depth of their class!!! mind blowing!

If you’re thinking that you don’t want to have all the jnana (wisdom) of yoga & just want to do some asana for flexibility & back pain – and so the above points might not apply to you, actually, they do. If you’re thinking this doesn’t affect yoga in India, it does.

When Indian teachers who maintain the true form of the teaching are not given their voice & platform & who are instead spoken for by people who do not have the qualification to teach it, a couple of things happen:

a. The culture & tradition that these teachers so want to preserve gets trampled & distorted due to incorrect translation having applied lived experience instead of the actual teaching of the sampradaya.

b. Socio-cultural currency is transferred into the hands of poorly or unqualified but appropriately brown skinned tokenized teachers.

c. We like to buy back phoren goods – we like to buy the fancy phoren yoga too. I’ve seen it, I know it. I was once asked by a local yoga teacher if I knew Kino. I didn’t at the time. They told me that her videos were popular and I should look at them etc. I failed to understand why I needed to. This, from an Indian yoga teacher.

This has not been an easy post. This also, will invite many to question my observation. This post will also invite DMs asking if I am speaking about X or Y or Z. (I’ll ask them to do their research) This post will also invite DMs saying that I am right or wrong.

Bottom line, I don’t really care about fragility at this point in time because self- reflection clearly has been a missing trait. Satya, Asteya, Aparigraha…. everything has been trampled upon. I’m staying true to dharma. Let the rest take care of itself.

And we talk about Ahimsa? Well, ahimsa has not even been considered! The harm that is caused by individuals who cash in on social media popularity is deep and I am deeply hurt by it for my students and for those who may reach out to yoga sometime. The need for integrity and authenticity in yoga is something that needs to exist – otherwise, we might as well write our own texts and teach them! No accountability expected!

If you’ve heard me out this far in my ‘yogic’ rant. Thank you for your time & patience – whether you agree with me or not. 🙏🏻

Why I Said What I Said

After my blog post last week, I was overwhelmed by the supportive comments. It was a whirlwind of activity – and many shared the blog – possibly because the post contained raw emotion and anger. I couldn’t really explain all of it, but the parts that I could I did. While some of my other desi friends and I sat with these shared thoughts, we were all in agreement over the hurt and anger we felt. We were also deeply aware that the pain and rage – sacred rage – was towards a deeper, more historical and inherited past. It was the pain of our ancestors – one that has not necessarily healed with time.

As a people, we come from a region that is rich in spiritual nuance and tradition. It has also been a place of deep esoteric richness along with indigenous wisdom and knowledge that is beyond a place of logical cognition. Our land has been geo-politically transacted with over the centuries and by way of being ‘open‘ to external influences perhaps left the door open for too long with the idea of atithi devo bhava – अतिथिदेवो भव: – ‘The guest is God’.

Nevertheless, the colonial history of India is one that defines a lot of present day Indianness – the way we are presented to the world and also largely how we are ourselves. And we are not just what you see us to be. We are complex and diverse in what makes us the way we are. By and large, despite and in spite of all the domestic challenges in our country of origin, our inheritance is a deep imprint of that colonial past. Sadly, the generations immediately post colonization were left to barely pick up the pieces as the next few generations slowly tried to make sense of things . Not many of us recognize that our inherited trauma is slowly showing up today – some of us are unable to deal with the microaggressions that trigger this unindentifiable sense of violation, others see it but are not equipped with the tools to deal with it or challenge it… and then there are those, that slowly but strongly recognize the violation and voice out the inherited pain that is born of our history but presented in our today.

That is why we speak out. That is why I spoke out and said what I said.

And I am not done speaking just as yet.

We are defined by our history. We are sentimental about it too.

Colonization was not a joke – not even a dirty one dripping in dark humor. It was a period of demeaning humiliation, thievery, dominance, supremacy and an ongoing, deeply painful process of breaking down our confidence and making us strangers in our own land, deeming us undeserving of the right to our own property and constantly being at the mercy of the white saheb. The guest we welcomed into our homes had turned into a lord who systematically tore away at our sense of individuality, culture, belief and identity. Our ancestors lived this reality and never really had an opportunity to claim the reparation for those crimes.

They just moved on, but the imprint of those aggressions have been conveyed down the generations initially by way of grudging ambivalence and the obvious social, psychological and cultural sense of inferiority. However, one lasting impact of colonization and the post-colonial experience is that while the colonized people are still reeling with their inherited postcolonial trauma and learning how to deal with it in the current generation, the attitude of supremacy amongst those who were conditioned to benefit from it has not been dismantled. The bias, micro and macroaggressions continue to happen, unconsciously as well as intentionally – often coming from a place of strong denial and resistance / reluctance to see the harm that one has caused. Many of us are all too familiar with present day descendants of the colonized who have an attitude of inferiority around white people. I have seen it often in many of my parents’ generation. I think I may have observed it in some instances with my parents too. But, it happens. All.the.time.

That condescension well smothered in the wrapping of logic and movement science is exactly where that blog post went last week and had gripped us right where it hurts the most. The frustrating part is that the OP as well as her supporters are all seemingly logical academics who choose to defend the original article. They are also very likely the ones who choose to continue this humiliation and continue to sell their brand and benefit from yoga – the term as well as the bastardized practice that is left in their possession. Their tendency seems to exclude from the practice any and all spiritual context, nuance or sentiment and a refusal to see that the yogic culture is based on just that.

Yoga cannot be explained through a logical movement science process. Asanas may be approached by body movement science principles, but body movement can not and will not be yoga. Especially not the modern innovated practices. The reason is that yoga is not just the asana version of postural practice that the left-brained western world wants it to be – so that it can make sense to them. So, most of the western teachers who are looking at yoga are looking at it solely as a physical practice to understand the accessibility of asana and it stops them right there. They are stopped at the rupa of the practice where the whole purpose of yoga, and even asana for that matter, is to get in touch with the arupa and no amount of movement science and anatomy can help us figure that out. Building a yoga anatomy concept of breaking down asana into a logical buddhi based approach is only satisfying the kama manas and intelligence. Staying put there will keep the practitioner in a fragmented state of understanding the individual pieces of the jigsaw and not allow you to evolve into a meta Manas view. Yoga takes evolution away from the logic based fragmented ‘physical’ to the united, whole view of the non-local, non-logical.

So, while creating a brand new, innovative movement practice is seemingly available to all, please refrain from calling it yoga…. which has a systematic path in various lineages and traditions spread all over India. Some of these traditions are well known and others remain sacredly guarded wisdom. So, as far as Krishnamacharya’s influence goes, there is much that he knew and experienced as an Indian under colonial rule to know what he was doing when he gave yoga to the western world. A part of the world that was only interested in taking what was not theirs to take, to fragment it even further and still call it yoga. All in the name of logic.

I can feel my frustration here enough to say that if one wants logic, go pick on ballet and gymnastics – there should be sufficient practices from the Eurocentric white world that will benefit from this approach. Why not leave yoga to the illogical, emotionally charged desis who are the inheritors of the practice after all? Why go into our homes and say our interior decor is all wrong? And then go on to humiliate us after allowing you to come in and pilfer?

Not all critique needs to be logical. Nuance and sentiment plays a big role. And again, if one does not appreciate the energetics and emotions behind yoga, the practice, the culture and the history behind it all (yes, they all have to be considered in the same breath)…. well, why not just leave it and go do something else! Or.. just don’t call it yoga so you can sell an exotic practice steeped in Orientalism. Why is that so hard to get? Why do we have to keep hearing arguments on why it is OK for people to steal?

Phew! deep breath, Luvena…

Next, I spoke about the harm and hurt. Harm and hurt are not just physical. We all know that. Now, bring into the fold someone who finally, after generations of internalized pain and oppression, is strong enough to voice and shine light on hurt and harm caused by a white person.

Boom! What just happened?!

You see, this voice has been suppressed through oppressive behaviours for generations and eventually, someone would have to say, ‘Ouch! That hurts!‘ Right? Wrong!

When this voice is met with denial, resistance and a defensive explanation for why this hurt is misplaced, then the privilege is left unchecked and the individual has now, demonstrated to the voice that they are right in their actions, no apology offered, take a hike! The OP’s choice & style of response is open for everyone to see. It is not secret – the blog and other social media posts are all under public settings. This attitude of ignoring the voices of concern from the people who are voicing their hurt is problematic. I don’t need to explain the logic behind it now, do I?

It is disrespectful, condescending and outright haughty. The OP’s ready engagement with all the supportive comments from other white people who found nothing wrong along with the ready tip to ‘please ignore these voices that speak up‘ was … *lost for words here* – maybe my logic driven academic friends would help me find a word here for this feeling?

So yes, we are voicing hurt feelings and in the face of those who say, ‘Don’t just say you’re hurt, prove it with facts and figures and rational observations’. I wish I had words to express the deep shame and lack we feel when we are trying to say that there is no quantitative figure to the experience of what we are being made to endure.

A lot of yoga, yogic thought, our culture and practices are steeped in bhava – bhava that cannot be accounted for. We are finally voicing the hurt that our ancestors experienced and are looking to heal from it. It is our inheritance, this pain. And many of us, today, are looking to heal this wound for ourselves, our children and for our ancestors. It is how we are wired. It is what we do – as a people.

We do not expect you to fully understand it. It isn’t exactly logical to understand, but we do appeal to you to at least step out of your inherited sense of superiority and privilege and realize that we come from a place of non-logical sanskaras and for that, we ask that you respect our pain. Yes, you do need to sit with this discomfort but ignoring us and our concerns is not going to shun or shoo us away like a pest (yes, you made us feel that way – I’m speaking to you, Jenni Rawlings. You may have made a seemingly logical but ill-researched, self-serving post, but you made us experience deep hurt by picking on an old wound only to make it bleed afresh.)

And so, we speak up – our voices are getting stronger and one will not be able to ignore us completely for much longer. We exist. We ARE. And we are because we carry that legacy of doing right the way we see it… the way we feel it. Because we are called to. If you don’t agree, please step aside and make way. The victimization ends here. This is our journey to walk and complete and if you won’t help, then please don’t add to the obstacles.

On Ancestry

Credit to Jyoti Solanki (IG @jyotigini ) for helping me find the right image.

Edited by Jyoti Solanki

“Too Much” Ado Around Isms, Or Is It?

Yesterday, I sat for a very long time trying to understand what Jenni Rawlings’ blog, “What Makes Yoga Yoga? A Response to Social Media Critics” was bringing up for me. I was, all at once, feeling anger, shame, humiliation, belittling, fury and also experiencing a physical turmoil that I wasn’t able to settle. I was visibly upset – physically, mentally and emotionally. This was a pushback from a white teacher with so much condescension in her words simply because ‘self-appointed gatekeepers’ were calling out practices on Social Media that were clearly not yoga.

My upset was not one of intellectual debate and wordy back-and-forth, it was deeper than words – it was deeply personal and rooted in a sense of who I am and where I come from. It wasn’t for a sense of national pride as much as it was for a sense of resilience and fight for freedom and survival that my ancestors went through. It was an upset over the blatant disregard of the socio-politics at play hundreds of years ago and the residual supremacy and dominant culture syndrome. The stronger kick in the gut was the showcasing of relief by many at the assumed permission to continue the oppressive behaviour – relief at having been absolved of the discomfort of having to hear voices of the Desi / SA/ BIPOC community that have been silent for so many years. The permission was clear – practical tools were offered on how to shrug off these voices of concern when they were raised. People who wanted to appropriate and perpetuate harm could continue doing so – the people who are hurt by these actions can safely be ignored.

Yup! That was the slap on our faces… resounding slap…

So I messaged her on her blog and then when I couldn’t take it any more, sent her this email – all of 3 pages long. At the time of publishing this blog, I have received no acknowledgement for it and no response either. My letter was kindly edited by Sashah

Dear Jenni,

I am writing with deep concern about your recent blog post on “What Makes Yoga Yoga? A Response to Social Media Critics”

My name is Luvena Rangel, and I’m a yoga anatomy, physiology and philosophy teacher located  in Bangalore, India. My work involves teaching the above mentioned core subjects in YTTs as well as ongoing philosophy, teaching methodology, cultural norms and a deep study and practical research into Cultural Appropriation, Indian history, thought and socio-cultural bias – including racism, casteism and supremacist & systematic oppression especially in yoga. And I am an Indian woman.

I was hoping that your article, coming from a teacher who many of my friends & acquaintances from the “greater yoga community” look up to, would have presented an innovative, respectful, though-provoking  perspective. Unfortunately, I am deeply saddened that despite the efforts of so many Desis and BIPOC who tirelessly put in their emotional labour to have their voices heard (in your comments and otherwise)- it is evident that instead of doing the work of understanding internalized racism you have chosen to give a free pass to bigotry and prejudice by way of this dangerous piece of writing.

To begin, you have stated that the purpose of your post is to be highlighting the concern around social media users shaming yogis because of how an asana looks. However, your references are largely less to do with how an asana is demonstrated by people of different body types and abilities and seems to be more of a defense toward who is presenting them and how. 

Sexually explicit, intricate postures (not all yoga postures), demonstrated by white, able bodied people can and will be called out because the tradition of yoga is one of cultural respect – a bhava contained in a maryada – both concepts of deep significance to  Indian people and culture. This is not to say that there aren’t sexual connotations and traditions of nudity however,  the current western Instagram models touting body & sexual reclamation are activists of their own cause and rite of passage. It is not yoga.

And calling it out is not just possible, it is required. Bhava and maryada are both  concepts and values of Indic thought and upholding them is a part of the culture where yoga comes from and it is important that if we wish to be in the yoga world, that we respect and honour the roots of yoga. If the western ‘greater yoga world’ doesn’t want to accept these ideas of respect and sensitivity, then my opinion is that no matter how long they teach yoga, they are not entitled to it. Saying that  It is our ‘shared tradition’ totally erases the roots, culture and people from whom it came. 

That being said, I agree that there are a few self-appointed ‘gatekeepers’ to yoga,  but what you fail to acknowledge in your article is that the entire practice of yoga comes from a country and a culture that deserves to be acknowledged. This culture values something beyond authenticity & pronounced titles to safeguard a culture. It is called swadharma. It is a concept that every Indian regardless of religious and/or direct/ indirect yogic influence is seasoned in. Unfortunately, that understanding of swadharma is something your piece is absolutely devoid of. 

I want to be clear that  your assumption of a “shared tradition” simply by way of practicing asana is harmful, hurtful & culturally appropriative. We do not ‘proclaim’ our connection to authenticity. We do not need to. Our bloodline, heritage & culture is sufficient to entrust us to that connection. When my 16-yr-old son (who does not practice yoga asana)read your article today, he shared with me that he felt anger and hurt. When I asked him why, he said, “Why? Because I’m Indian and this makes me angry.”This hurt & anger we felt is felt by many other Desi yoga teachers who read your blog & responded to it, and I would name this as Sacred Rage.

This is because your article consistently humiliates the tradition of yoga by questioning its purity. Your statement of the three Krishnamacharya students who have gone on to teach “their own branch of modern yoga” is indicative of a failure to truly understand the nuance of Indian culture, wisdom tradition, education and yogic thought- despite having possibly taught  (yoga?) for as long as you have. Please do the research – deeply and not superficially – on the parampara of a guru shishya tradition.

Ashtanga yoga is NOT a fast-paced practice just because WP who wanted a love & light equivalent to calisthenics / high intensity aerobics. The obviousness of various poorly understood  ‘facts’ & ‘claims’ are terribly harmful and show a deep gap between your knowledge of the roots of yoga. This gap that is likely inadvertently causing you to harm others by totally erasing aspects of yoga and the culture from which it derives.

To be clear- Krishnamacharya did NOT invent any yoga. For someone who makes a living off teaching yoga, your statement that Krishnamacharya would have been inspired by modern movement based practices is based totally in your own assumption and privilege. Krishnamacharya’s choice to teach anyone was his alone and it is painfully evident that Indian men and women had to sacrifice considerably to be able to teach and preserve a  knowledge that today, many white people want to have a piece of simply because it has been available.

When you say that  “It is therefore literally impossible for someone to look at a person doing a movement on social media and declare whether what they are doing is yoga or not.” – I absolutely do not agree. While we may not be able to understand the thoughts behind the photographed model and if they are in ‘yoga’ or not, a sexually explicit, narcissistic proclamation of flexible ligaments in contorted body shapes is not yoga…. And it not necessarily asana either. And yes, we CAN tell if it is a yoga asana or not. Dismissing the perspective, knowledge and connection of those of us who have cultural knowledge you may not possess is grossly disrespectful and assumes that if you are not the authority- no one is. 

To address your points about medical advances & knowledge of the human body compared to what existed in “early 20th century India, this shows another gap in knowledge.  If WP needed a study in Anatomy for yoga, there has been a deep study of the human anatomy & physiology AS WELL AS the emotions & spiritual consciousness involved for health & wellness developed in India AGES before modern medicine and the concept of modern movement science. I would say the depth of science was well developed in India way before white man came to  “save us” from our indigenous wisdom by burning our books and destroying the connection to scripture (colonization). Only to replace it with a dependency on modern science and a reliance on buddhi based science ,severing the ties to the deeper aspect of yogic practices. 

We have had Ayurveda for a long time and Eastern Anatomy is a discipline modern anatomy would just not be able to comprehend. I speak from a place of professional bias here. I teach Anatomy myself and come with a background in both Eastern & Western anatomy as well as Ayurveda.

Using Anatomy as a benchmark, your article is leaning on an anti-Indian prejudice and the language and emphasis in your post all indicate an effort to justify appropriation,  disrespect and an allowance or free pass for white people to continue harming the culture and people who maintain the integrity of lineage, culture and tradition day in & day out. 

I highlight white people because on your Instagram and blog comments almost all the supportive comments are from white people. These readers now have your piece to refer to when they are questioned about their participation in  prejudice and harm to South Asians and BIPOC. 

You have much to gain from this article, but this has hurt and caused immense pain & grief to the origin culture and peoples. Your article is consistently taking the points of those who are working to keep the tradition pure and then knocking them down by saying they are insufficient to make these claims. Why? I do not see you acknowledging any of the pressing comments that indicate concern but only find you engaging pleasantly with those who agree, with relief perhaps, with your POV. There is tremendous privilege at play here, and your ignorance of the concerned comments adds to your erasure of South Asian voices and Indian culture. 

Finally I want to address your statement “The boundary around what makes yoga yoga is something that is continually being negotiated and will always be open to influence from new ideas. Experimenting with different approaches, unique props, or innovative sequencing in yoga classes is not somehow a threat to the institution of yoga as we know it.”

You have concluded your article with one of the most demeaning words in your entire article – one that gives yourself and the many other people who benefit from  white supremacy and dominant attitude of colonization – this self-appointed right to appropriate, steal and take from colonized cultures with the shameless excuse that yoga will always be open to influence from new ideas.

In conclusion, I invite you to reconsider this article and deeply reflect on the harm you have caused and will cause. My hope is that you will take this feedback and begin to examine the privilege and internalized white supremacy at play in this piece.

 

Luvena Rangel

 

 

What This YJ Issue Got Me Thinking About

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Earlier this month, a lot of the Western Yoga community expressed their upset and displeasure at Yoga Journal’s split covers on their Leadership Issue – some issues having plus size, queer, teacher of colour, Jessamyn Stanley and others featuring Maty Ezraty another fabulous able-bodied, white teacher. Both teachers are wonderful in their own spaces and in the work they do, but yoga activists in the community, many of them known to me, called out Yoga Journal for this because it had been observed over numerous occasions in the past that YJ was being exclusive in their coverage of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) teachers or other teachers from marginalized, minority sections of the yoga community.

I expressed my upset on Instgram & Facebook as well….and some of my other teacher friends – prominent and well respected in the western yoga community (Jivana Heyman, Amber Karnes, Susanna Barkataki, Dianne Bondy, and many others) – raised it to YJ, who eventually issued a statement on the matter.

Well, when I read that statement, I felt that it just used all the essentially ‘politically correct’ words in a group of sentences – words that perhaps Jivana or Susanna must have said in their conversations and posts, and then issued a statement to hopefully settle the matter with the masses.

Anyway, after my initial frustration with the incident – I eventually realized that was even though the exclusion extended itself to me too (as an Indian / brown/ plus-sized teacher lacking representation) technically, my feelings on the matter, might not actually matter to YJ. That didn’t stop me from voicing my feelings.

But, I thought about a couple of things:

  1. We lack yoga glossy magazines in India. And the ones that we do have lack in quality – both aesthetic as well as content. Magazines like YJ glamorize and beautify the yoga industry to the extent that when we desi yogis travel internationally, we pick these publications.
  2. These magazines highlight a very able-bodied asana approach of yoga, interspersed with a few points here & there on wellness & spirituality, but largely commercialized consumerism of yoga-wear (usually not the plus sizes, but can find something), yoga bars, packaged teas, props and asana classes – all wayyyy to expensive for the average Indian yoga teacher, who… cough cough… anyway earns wayyyy to little to afford those programs.
  3. These programs may complement Indian yoga teachers who generally face a dearth of quality educational programs (with structure and regulation) – but unfortunately, the expense (not to mention visa, travel, accommodation, etc) that makes it highly inaccessible. The research put into a lot of yoga-related aspects in the West can be a great add on to Indian yoga teachers’ practice, teaching & training – and of course so much more knowledge sharing that can happen the other way round too.
  4. There were a few comments on Social Media that said, “YJ is a publishing house” and “I wouldn’t worry too much about what YJ thinks and prints because they’re only printing about yoga – they’re not necessarily yogis…”

Now this is where I actually got uncomfortable. YJ is a published magazine – printing issues and e-magazines about yoga. They have subscribers all over the world – including in India. They were making money printing and publishing stuff about yoga (yogic or not) but they had a responsibility to uphold the values of yoga.

It really got me thinking – within India, we have our fair share of exclusivity – both within and outside of yoga. We didn’t have as much as BIPOC issue, but we certainly did buy in to the ableism that is perpetuated in mainstream media. I was looking for an image of an Indian teacher in ashwasanchalanasana (equestrian pose) on Google this morning (Go ahead and try it! This is what I typed: Indian yoga teacher ashwasanchalanasana / equestrian pose) and any guesses on what I came up with?

We are just so under-represented in the yoga world despite being from the country where yoga originated and are buying into the supremacy of ableism and further allowing it to define who we are as teachers ourselves.

I can imagine that not many Indian teachers may be dipping into the history of yoga to resonate very strongly with the effects of colonialism and cultural appropriation that I am referring to – but they wouldn’t deny that we have bought into the idea that yoga is a huge business in the western world and the consumerism of it is slowly seeping into the Indian yoga community too.

I find so many Indian teachers tagging superstar yogis of the US and being a part of asana challenges and getting their bracelets and tights and all of that. Yes, it builds community and I’m all for that, but I can’t help but feel that this is largely coming from the place of ‘acceptance’ or just not feeling accepted and falling into that vicious cycle of succumbing to a stronger power.

What would it take for the yoga industry to bring the focus on the land, people and culture where it originated? The source from where they make their millions from? Or what would it take for us, Indian teachers, to actually behave in a way of being accepted by ourselves?! Taking full ownership of our skill, our exposure and our heritage.

This isn’t the part where we say if we’re Indian so we’re born yogis – no way! We’ve had our fair share of those kinds. We’re talking about Indian teachers of substance. Teachers who really live and work their purpose in the way they teach, practice and continue to learn. Indian teachers who really contribute to modern yoga with a strong foundation of knowing their roots and heritage – and if they don’t know of their yogic roots & heritage, then to at least begin the inquiry! Not many TTCs & YTTs in India spend adequate time on teaching about the history of yoga to their teachers in training. I guess even the schools assume that asana is the way.

Well, a lot more where that came from – but for now, I’ll leave it at this… and remain with my thoughts….